Five Candidates Vie for Open Centralia School Board Seat

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Five candidates are being considered to serve out the remaining two years of Beverly Clark’s term on the Centralia School Board.

The board announced it would appoint someone to the newly-vacant Position 2 seat after Clark announced her resignation on Nov. 10.

The application window closed Nov. 24 and the school board interviewed the five candidates — Audra Messegee-Evans, Wilfredo Henriquez Martinez, Michelle Whitlow, Anthony Bledsoe and Jan Nontell — at a special meeting on Tuesday.

A sixth candidate, former para-educator and Citizens Academy graduate Monique Farland, rescinded her candidacy prior to the interview.

The board is expected to call another special meeting next week to vote someone into the position.

 

Messegee-Evans is a Centralia School District graduate, the director of finance at DeTray Family Enterprises and the owner of Poseidon Aquatic Club. All of her children attended K-12 in the Centralia School District and she has volunteered as a swimming official for Centralia High School since 2004.

“The Centralia schools have provided both me and my family a firm foundation for our lives,” she said in a written statement.

“I have dedicated my life to helping children navigate the balance of academics, athletics and personal growth,” she said, adding that her experience as a swim coach has given her an understanding of the challenges children and parents face academically, socially and economically.

She said she is running for the school board as a way to use her unique skills to help improve the lives of children in the community.

“I believe I can help bring together our school board, families and teachers, to work as a team toward the common goal of building the best possible future for our children,” she said.

Messegee-Evans recently lost a bid for Director Position 1 on the school board to former Centralia teacher and cheerleading coach Debra Parnham, who won with 2,794 votes, or 63.16% of the vote, to Evans’ 1,584 votes, or 35.8%. She was also interviewed in August alongside Parnham and Tim Browning as a potential candidate to serve the remaining year of Lori Fast’s term, though the board chose to appoint Browning to Fast’s seat.

 

Henriquez Martinez learned about the school board position through conversations with friends and applied with the intent to give back to the community where he and his family intend to raise their grandchildren.

The owner of both WH Carpentry and WH Enterprises in Centralia, Henriquez Martinez moved with his wife and son from Honduras to the U.S. roughly 20 years ago and the family have been in Centralia for roughly 17 years, he told the school board during his interview Tuesday.

His son attended Centralia High School for his senior year and went on to attend Centralia College, eventually becoming a doctor. 

“What we see in the Centralia community is we see that it's a family,” he said, adding that while he loves the community, he’s concerned for its future and was searching for ways to get involved in bettering that future when he learned about the school board position.

“This position is one of the best places that we can work together with the community and make sure that this community is a better place for every one of us that live here. ”

He cited his past experience volunteering with civic organizations, including service as a board member for Health and Hope Medical Outreach, as treasurer for Casa de Dios and Puera del Cielo Church, as evidence of his commitment to the Centralia community.

“I have served in the past on several organizations and it has been my priority to get involved in the community that we live (in) and provide to the best of my abilities everything on my experience and knowledge for the betterment of the Centralia School District,” he said in a written statement.

 

Whitlow, a mother of four and with a career in social services, said she believes the experience she’s gathered in those two aspects of her life offers her a unique insight to contribute to the Centralia School Board.

“I believe that integrous leadership of community systems, such as that of serving on the school board, is a subject not only near and dear to my professional focus but my personal heart as well,” she said in a written statement.

Two of her children are currently enrolled in the Centralia School District and two are adults.

“Essentially, I feel my generational experience as a parent affords me a unique past, present, and future insight not afforded to many in today’s world,” she said.

Whitlow graduated from Washington State University with a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary social services, according to her resume, and she has gone on to earn a master’s degree in social and human services and has a career working with youth. Most recently, she worked as a social service specialist for the Washington state Department of Children, Youth and Families.

“I feel that student learning expectations, staff success, monitoring of district accountability standards, and the increase of public trust has never been more crucial than in today’s times,” she said. “I am hopeful that my professional skill set will allow for a unique and fresh perspective to the board. One that is supported not only by my higher education but equally by my personal commitment to student, school and district success overall.”

 

Bledsoe’s two sons, both of whom are enrolled in the Centralia School District, were his primary motivation for applying to the Centralia School Board.

“As the first member of my family to graduate from high school and college, I am a parent that is committed to ensuring that my children receive the best education possible, both at home and at school,” he said.

Aside from a desire to be hands-on in his children’s education, he said he wants to learn something new and utilize the skills he has to lend a hand in his community.

He currently works as the program manager for the state Department of Health’s Trauma Designation System and has a background in health policy and administration, which has given him experience interpreting and understanding data along with managing budgets.

“While I don’t hold a degree or direct experience working in education, I feel that my education and work experience would make me a great candidate who can contribute both individually and collectively to accomplish the goals of the school board,” he said.

Joining the school board would be a way for Bledsoe to give back to his community, he said, and to contribute to the work the school board is doing in the community.

“I feel that my personal values, education and experience may be of value to the school board,” he said.

 

Nontell, the owner of Rectangle Gallery and Creative Space in Centralia, has a career as an institutional change specialist and grant writer for colleges and universities.

“As a downtown business owner, I know the importance of education for a strong, healthypopulation,” she said, adding that the Centralia School District can be a model for teamwork and goal-setting for the community at large.

“By working together, we can make sure that our students become healthy, happy and successful adults who are well prepared for their futures,” she said.

She currently serves as the chair of the economic vitality and organization committees for the Centralia Downtown Association and has experience in a wide variety of board positions, including president of ARTrails, board member for the Lewis County Historical Museum, and founding member of the Lewis County Long Term Recovery Organization that helped rehouse people displaced by the 2007 flood.

She said her professional and volunteer experience can help ensure the Centralia School District remains fiscally responsible moving forward.

“As tax dollars get tighter, and with the constant concerns of levy failures hanging over the district, I believe the board needs a strong, persistent voice to make sure the community understands what is happening with the resources the board oversees,” she said.

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The candidates’ interviews with the Centralia School Board were live-streamed on Facebook Live and are available to view on the Centralia School District’s Facebook page.